Are you an Idiot or are you being Vulnerable?

In Brain Injury, Life by Emerson Jane BrowneLeave a Comment

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I feel like I made a complete idiot of myself!

I was quite vulnerable and open about something very personal during a question and answer period at a tech conference this week.  But when I just texted “I feel like an Idiot!” to the person I am running the event with, she sent back “Oh God no .. it really added value.”  And in reality, a few people thanked me for sharing, so I know she is not alone in her view.

So why do I feel like an idiot?

What my response reminds me of is Brene′ Brown’s reaction after she gave her first TED talk at TEDxHouston:

I woke up the morning after I gave that Talk with the worst vulnerability hangover of my life. And I actually didn’t leave my house for about three days.

The first time I left was to meet a friend for lunch. … And I said, “I just told 500 people that I became a researcher to avoid vulnerability. And that when being vulnerable emerged from my data, as absolutely essential to whole-hearted living, I told these 500 people that I had a breakdown. I had a slide that said Breakdown. At what point did I think that was a good idea?”

… And then I looked at her and I said something that at the time felt a little dramatic, but ended up being more prophetic than dramatic. I said, “If 500 turns into 1,000 or 2,000, my life is over.” (Laughter) I had no contingency plan for four million. 1

The reality is, of course, that her talk has now been watched over 20 million times because she was vulnerable.  She shared herself in a vulnerable manner and we connected to her and to the message she delivered through her vulnerability.

So why do I feel like an idiot?  Why am I having a “vulnerability hangover”?


Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? 2

That cuts right to the heart of my fears.  The reason I think and feel like I made an absolute idiot of myself is exactly that! I fear I have exposed something about myself that will make me unworthy of connection with the people I shared with.  Here I am at a tech conference with people who I want to network with, who I hope can help me find work, and I am admitting I was homeless for two years!!

Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted. 3

nose fix bright final_2I try to be “who I am” on this blog.  A lot of the writing here is about showing up and allowing myself to be seen.

That said, I will also admit that I have been fighting the urge to go back onto this blog and hide that post I wrote last weekend It’s a Long, Long Road Home.  It is not a soft, feel-good post.  It is an honest one that talks about a painful topic.

My fear with laying my heart out there on the line is twofold.  First it is “What will people think of me?” and fearing that they will not want to be around me. And second, is a fear of  “Causing other people discomfort” which also will make it so they will not want to have much to do with me.

However, it would seem hypocritical and duplicitous to write a blog that gives tips to people to help them recover from a brain injury and then to be silent about the difficulties I personally experience because I want to appear like a trusted, knowledgeable, together authority.

I feel I owe it to my readers to say it like it is.  To be vulnerable and exposed.  I feel I have a responsibility to be honest about the difficult aspects of having a brain injury.  To give readers a resource that they can share with their loved ones to help them understand their reality.  That maybe, because I am a writer, I can put words to experiences that they may have too but not be able to give voice to.

I can do that for other TBI survivors.  But it scares me when I am sharing that in a professional arena; showing up and letting myself be seen.

Belonging is not fitting in.

In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in … is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them.

Belonging is something else entirely — it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are.   4

It is interesting to note that I shared about having been homeless specifically in relation to how the homeless in our class are not seen.  It was in response to a talk given by Scott Porad that was based on a post he made called Jobs, America, Meetups and Puppies.

I park my car about 3 blocks away from where I work, and on my short walk to work I walk by a homeless shelter.  It’s not even an overnight shelter…it’s a day shelter where men and women can take a shower, wash their clothes and hang out indoors for awhile.  So, on the one hand, we have companies begging for a people to come work for them, and on the other we have people who can’t find work, home or food.

This situation reminds me of John Edwards, the disgraced presidential candidate from a few years back.  He campaigned on the notion that there were “two Americas” and he was right.  There are Two Americas, and they’re not Red State and Blue State Americas.  It’s the Haves and the Have Nots.  Everybody in this coffee shop where I’m writing these thoughts in the lives in the Haves America.  Two doors down, at the day shelter…welcome to the America of Have Nots.  5

I spoke up because thinking that everybody in that coffee shop is in the “Have” America may be incorrect.  The “Have Nots” of the class of people Scott and I are in likely hang out in a coffee shop instead of the homeless day shelter even when we have no place to spend the night.  I know.  I did it.

We are the “Unseen” of the “Have Nots”.  We cannot bring ourselves to sleep in a doorway or a shelter and instead quietly spend the night in our car, never letting on to anyone that we are homeless.

I was unable to admit my situation to people due to Pride and also avoidance of Shame.  That makes sense since the two are opposites of one another:

[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” ]Pride: A proper respect for oneself; sense of one’s own dignity or worth; self-respect

Shame: A painful feeling of having lost the respect of others because of the improper behavior, incompetence, etc. of oneself or of someone that one is close to or associated with[/box]

That sense of shame is the reason I “feel like an idiot” even years later when I admit to people at a tech conference that I was “that person” in Scott’s talk.


Emerson Jane Browne
I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.